Statement of Minority Senators Leila De Lima, Franklin Drilon, Risa Hontiveros, and Francis Pangilinan on COVID pandemic

March 13, 2020

In light of the government’s lockdown of the National Capital Region, we seek clarification on the following:

1.    Food supply What about the entry and exit of trucks carrying food and other supplies to and from NCR ports, and wet markets, supermarkets, and other retail outlets? What happens to the scheduled arrival of semi-perishable and perishable goods estimated at billions of pesos during the lockdown period? Will these goods be diverted? Will these shipping entries be exempt from the lockdown?

2.    COVID updates How many have been monitored through contact tracing of those who have tested positive for COVID? What is the status of the travel ban to and from China, given reports that flights from China continue and that Bacolod has allowed all vessels from China, Hong Kong, and Macau to dock at its seaports?

3.    Jobs If entry to and exit from NCR is restricted, what happens to the estimated 4 million non-Metro Manila residents from Laguna, Cavite, Rizal, Bulacan, and even Pampanga who work in Metro Manila? DILG Secretary Año has made some exceptions in the media after the President’s announcement on the lockdown but protocols for these should be made clear.

4.    Informal settlements How do we address the issue of close contact among people in informal?

5.    Intra-NCR travel and mass transit If Metro Manila is locked down, can residents move freely within the metropolis? What are the protocols for MRT and LRT riders? For padyak, tricycle, Angkas/habal-habal, jeepney, van, and bus riders? Will the government deploy more trains? Ease permits and franchises for other modes of transport?

6.    Hazmat suits for military and police 40,000 troops who do not have hazmat suits are reported to be deployed to enforce the lockdown. How will they be protected from the virus? How will their deployment cut the transmission of the virus?

7.    Economy What is NEDA’s plan to make the economy resilient and able to immediately bounce back from the economic shocks brought by the pandemic?

The challenge is to minimize the infection. We must do everything we can to prevent the situation where the growing number of COVID-19 patients overwhelms our entire healthcare workforce.

The rate at which the COVID-19 cases multiply each day poses a very serious threat. If we fail to arrest the increase, our healthcare system, no matter how equipped it is, will face difficulty in dealing with COVID-19 cases.

With the increasing cases of COVID infections, we are willing to help work with the administration to enact emergency legislation needed so that government can respond more quickly to the crisis, as well as propose science-based and multi-sectoral, and people-centered and vulnerable-focused actions on these areas:

1. Communication

·      Issue more frequent timely and informative press conferences for updates, advisories, and reminders (on hygiene and healthy practices), utilizing traditional and social media, including private telcos and non-traditional media like electronic billboards.

·      Set up a 24-hour hotline that will answer health and other questions.

2. Necessities

·      Ensure supply and distribution system of food, water, and other basic needs.

·      Stock up on basic relief goods.

·      Prevent looting and provide the most vulnerable, no-work-no-pay daily wage earners and micro entrepreneurs (eg, jeepney drivers, construction workers, and sidewalk vendor) with basic relief goods and cash support.

·      Buy from local farmers and producers.

3. Medical services

·      Ensure massive testing during the lockdown.

·      Exhaust all means to find, isolate and test every COVID-19 case and trace every persons they had contact with in order to prevent the spread of the virus.

·      To relieve fear and panic, publicly distribute bottle-size alcohol spray, pocket tissues, face masks and other similar items.

·      Prioritize the safety of our frontline health workers, both in government and private sector, by ensuring that they are given the support and protection they need. We acknowledge and deeply appreciate their dedication. All hospitals, private and public, including rural health units, should be empowered to respond to COVID-19 case.

We also laud the quick action by the PhilHealth in shouldering the testing and hospitalization of COVID-19 patients and persons under investigation.

4. Enforce, expand, and encourage social distancing

·      Cancel or postpone non-essential travels, class suspensions, and mass gatherings to prevent COVID spread. Nobody can enter or exit lockdown areas, unless there are proven family or work reasons. Postpone work meetings and encourage working from home.

We support a localized approach to contain the virus. The local government units should do everything in their power to prevent unnecessary gatherings, interactions, and meetings in their localities. We call for the public’s utmost cooperation.

·      Business establishments should allow telecommuting, work-from-home, and other means that can help minimize the risk of spreading the virus.

·      Provide additional medical leaves and other support for self-quarantine of government and private employees. No penalty for COVID-vulnerable doing self-quarantine. Consider additional leaves as donation similar to during a disaster.

5. Budget and other resources

·      Make fund releases easy especially to government hospitals through the Departments of Health and Social Welfare and Development.

·      Tap contingency funds and savings for COVID-19.  

·      Similar to Italy, help small entrepreneurs cope with diminished economic activity. For example, commercial space owners may give rent discounts to mall stall owners; and government may extend deadlines for BIR, SSS employer contributions, and other government payments; and/or partly subsidize these payments.

6. Mindset or approach

·      Leaders, both in and out of government, should strategize and draw up measures to address this pandemic in their companies, schools, offices, and organizations.

·      Use the crisis as an opportunity to better our health, financial, and food distribution systems toward universal access to basic goods and services.

·      Respect human rights.

·      This pandemic is also an opportunity to work together because we are all in this together.